ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Chantha Luk is the music director at the Lynn YMCA and is responsible for producing a holiday CD featuring young local talent.
By BILL BROTHERTON
LYNN — Chantha Luk sits at the soundboard in the Lynn YMCA’s studio clubhouse. The Y’s music director pushes a button and flicks a knob; suddenly glorious voices fill the room. Sheree Dunwell and Amanda Mena are singing “O Holy Night,” and you’d swear that Mariah Carey had announced her arrival in full diva mode.
This is just one song on “YMCA Christmas Duets,” a 13-track album coordinated by Luk that pairs established singers and incredible young talent from the Y’s music program. The music is available on the group’s Bandcamp page (details below).
“Amanda Mena is the winner of the 2014 ‘La Voz’ competition. She’s 13 years old. Sheree Dunwell is the winner of ‘Community Auditions’ and a renowned vocalist. She had a cold the day she recorded her vocal. After she heard Amanda’s vocal she said ‘I have to come back. I want to do better.’ It became like a diva battle,” Luk said with a chuckle. “They brought out the best in each other.”
All vocals were recorded separately; the singers never met. Luk put it all together in the studio. Musical accompaniment came via karaoke tracks.
LISTEN: YMCA Christmas duets
“Real magic happened on ‘This Christmas,’ the Donny Hathaway song,” added Luk. “It’s my second-favorite version of that song I’ve ever heard.” Luk teamed Ali McGuirk, a star on the Boston jazz/pop scene, with 15-year-old Destiny Rodriguez of Lynn.
Carolyn Cole, programs manager for the Lynn Cultural District, and Ksena Gaskin shine on “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Cole, who played Tracy Turnblad in Washington D.C.’s Signature Theatre’s production of “Hairspray,” displays a strong, sweet voice.
Melina Laganas, a 14-year-old from Marblehead, has received training at Berklee College of Music and participates in projects at School of Rock Lynn. She teams with Gisell Andrade on a rollin’ “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
Aniyah Ross, 10, nails the Michael Jackson-like vocal on “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” Danny Donator, a senior at Lynn Tech, delivers a haunting version of the poignant, timely “Someday at Christmas.”
“I don’t know if it’s something in the Lynn water, but the talent is stellar here,” said Luk, who got bitten by the music bug big time, starting with the Lynn Classical High “Talent Jam” in 1999. He pursued a music career, landed a few record deals, toured and appeared on stages with rappers k-os, Meek Mil and others. He soured on the business and enrolled at Villanova University. When he graduated from the Philadelphia school he returned to Lynn, eventually becoming performing arts teacher at the Gregg Community House preschool. That led to his “perfect” job at the YMCA, which he started in April.
“I’m in the right place,” he said. “If I could make up something to do for free, it would be this job. I love it. I’ve come full circle.”
The Lynn Y Studio Clubhouse music program is free to kids 8 and older in the city; a Y membership is not required. Luk also provides free studio time, beat-making courses, group and solo voice lessons, piano lessons and more for members. About 120 kids participate in the after-school programs weekly. Luk believes Methuen is the only local Y to offer a program as extensive as Lynn’s.
“YMCA Christmas Duets” can be downloaded or streamed at https://lynnystudioclubhouse.bandcamp.com/album/ymca-christmas-duets. A $5 donation is requested; all proceeds will benefit the Y’s music program.